MUCH MORE project partners from Gävle, Turku and Riga gathered together in Riga on a study visit on 16-17 October to share the gained experience in working with men with past addiction problems, exchange ideas for peer group activities and discuss the plans for further actions.
During the days in Riga, the international project team had the possibility to participate on site visits, offered by the hosts of Riga. The first site visit took the team to a social rehabilitation center called NOVA VITA. The visit began with an introduction of the Betlehem Charity House by Dana Anskaite and Liga Roke-Reimate. NOVA VITA offers a rehabilitation program for addicted adults. A multiprofessional group is working with the men to offer them support through the daily program.
Work and social issues, health and relationship problems and topics like self-worth, identity and values are daily issues, which are being processed among the men with the help of professionals. Men live in a shared the community and they are being encouraged to develop their practical skills in every-day and spiritual life. As taking the tour around the building, partners could meet some of the men, have a chat with them and ask about their feedback towards the MUCH MORE project. Men said that they are particularly happy with the cooking classes and one men said that the physical activities “brought him to life”.
Next stop at the social rehabilitation center RATNIEKI, which is located outside of the city of Riga. The rural surroundings of the center impressed the project team right away. RATNIEKI was established in 1998 and since then it has been the base for the men participating the MUCH MORE project.
Also in this center, men have a daily schedule to be followed. Sports, different kind of wooden work, cooking classes and several other kind of activities are offered by multiprofessional team of therapists, social workers, artists etc. One of the most impressive concrete achievements of the team work at the center was clearly a residential cottage which the men have built together. Again, the team had the possibility to get to know the facilities of the center, have a little chat with some of the men and see how men are living.
Additionally, there are more exciting things happening in the MUCH MORE project: a video clip about the project is under development! It will offer you a short insight into our project by showing an interview with the partners, describing the project in shortcuts and letting the professionals know what the peer-group activities bring to the work with the difficult-to-reach target group.The video clip will be published soon on our webpage, don´t miss it!
There was a crowd of people from all round the world discussing and learning about the projects and achievements of participating associations, organizations and cities, which are presented in posters at the International Healthy Cities Conference 2018 that took place 1-4 October at Waterfront in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The moderate poster walk was one of the multifaceted and interesting program of the conference.
Iina Lenz, the project coordinator of BRHCA took part of the poster walk among many others by presenting the MUCH MORE project. That was an opportunity for the other conference delegates to get to know more about the presented projects. Questions like how men experienced the activities, if cooperation partners do learn from each other´s experiences during the project and if the project has really reached men to participate, occurred during the walk.
“Gladly we can announce that we have reached a group of men in all partner countries and have received positive and constructive feedback from them. Thanks to MUCH MORE, men had a possibility to take part in designing and developing the activities together with the professionals. We have been in an intensive cooperation among the partners and have had interesting discussions about the achievements and challenges to develop more interesting and more empowering activities for the target group.” Iina reported.
Despite the hot summer days, the workshops in Riga for men continue. The following short insight into a music and art workshop provides a glimpse of the activity.
It is Monday afternoon and all the participants are seated in a circle. This time there are five men. All of them have participated also in the previous workshops and they are not surprised when asked to choose an instrument which best suits one’s mood on this day. Although there is a wide range of musical instruments, they act quickly. The participants are very different in their preferences – they choose from the loud drums to the whisper-like sound of the "rain tree". Each person is invited to justify his choice. Then each of the participants names three things that would help them to overcome bad mood and start feeling happier. The answer is not simple, especially for these men with alcohol addiction in the past. One participant is confused because alcohol and drugs were his support in past but what could substitute them at this moment? Friends, family, religion, work..? Another participants mentions music, conversations with friends (but then he sadly remarks that there is no longer any friends outside the centre). Other men mention also need to stay in silence with one’s thoughts. The next task is to make the same "dark day" symbolically bright - the three things already mentioned are to be put on a black sheet of paper so that the overall impression is light. The men are very eager to make their drawings and choose the crayons. Afterwards the men try to explain their ideas and drawings. Then two drawings are selected to be “played out”. Everybody has to choose and “play” some musical instrument, altogether creating a common “orchestra”. At the same time it is to be kept in mind that one has to play in such a way as not to disturb the others. And it really works! Men are really interested and try to play while listening to others. And quite unexpectedly the workshop has come to the end.
The goal of these of activities is to build strong internal resources – a sense of personal control over a situation. Such kind of activities also help to raise awareness that the surrounding people and society can be supportive and helpful to deal with dark moods and complicated situations.
During June we have had four peer group meetings. Together with the clients we have eaten self-made fish soup, fixed bikes and played a typical Finnish outdoor summer game called Mölkky.
The number of participants in the peer group meetings has varied from zero to six. It seems that few men have committed to the group. The others come and go, appear in the meetings and then disappear. Some of them respond to messages that we send to them to inform them about coming peer group meetings. Some of them even call us. We might have long telephone conversations with them, but when it is time to come to the meetings the men are not there – even though on the phone they have promised to be there. Also, some of the men have lost their phone connections in a couple of weeks’ time and we have lost the contact with them.
We discussed these problems with our colleagues from our local partners, Sininauha Oy and A-kilta, which are organizations that work with substance abusing clients or former alcoholics. The colleagues agreed with us: it is a very typical phenomenon among the clients of this target group. The clients have difficulties with committing to the group meetings or other activities. The summer time highlights these problems. During winter many clients take part in this kind of activities more actively but in the summer time they find something else to do – or don’t do anything special, which is more common.
Sometimes even getting out of one’s own home can be a huge psychological effort for our clients. It’s typical that they have decided and promised beforehand to attend some activity – and they have truly believed that they are really going to do that. But when they should leave their homes they just can’t do it, for one reason or another. There are also more practical explanations why our clients don’t always show up even though they have said that they will. They have told us that they don’t have money to buy bus tickets or they don’t want – or they don’t know how – to use public transport.
If it’s rainy or the sun is shining too warmly they don’t want to come by bike. Also that the biking route through the city centre is full of temptations that they feel they can’t resist. It’s not yet easy for them to bypass all those pubs and beer gardens. On the contrary, one of the men told us that he had biked to a beer garden straight after our peer group meeting. He explained that the weather was so nice that all his old bad habits came back to his mind and his addiction took the control. As we know it’s a long and bumpy road to overcome alcoholism.
Our clients, middle-aged men with past – or not so past – drinking problems – are mostly people who have had no “normal “hobbies (beside drinking) in their adulthood. They are not familiar with the idea of committing themselves to some activity regularly. Some of them are also shy and they suffer from a lack of social skills. For them it is not easy to come to a group where they don’t know other participants beforehand and it takes time to make them feel comfortable enough to join the meetings.
Attending these Much More peer group meetings are not tied to any financial benefits of the clients. So their livelihood doesn’t depend on taking part in these meetings. That means that our clients have to want to come to the meetings totally voluntarily – so they must feel our group so meaningful that they will come again and again. For us it means that we have to manage to form a group that the clients feel important for them themselves.
How can we make that happen? That’s the question and a major challenge for us professionals. After all, we have decided to find out how we can do that with the Much More project. Together with our clients we have made some plans for the next peer group meetings: we are going fishing, bowling and playing billiards together. That’s what our clients suggested.
In May the Blue Ribbon Association had their meeting outside and made it a barbecue. The weather was nice and the sun was shining.
During the meeting the men started to talk about why they didn’t find watching sports fun anymore. They told that watching sports reminds them about drinking beer because in their past watching sports was always connected to drinking. Nowadays, when they are trying to live without alcohol they don’t want to watch sports anymore because they are afraid that it could be a trigger that makes them drink again. The men said that it is quite easy to become sober but it is so hard to stay and live sober if drinking has been the number one activity of the everyday life.
Later the discussion turned to the life stories of the men and their family and relationship problems. Due to their drinking some of the men had totally lost contact with their children. They felt deeply sad, sorry and guilty because of that but some of them had accepted to live without their children.
Some of the men, for their part, meet their kids regularly. For them building good relationships with their children has been the main reason why they wanted to quit drinking.
After all this eating and talking we planned our next group meeting. The men decided that they would like to fix their bikes next time. They had enjoyed this meeting very much and expressed an interest to continue attending the group.
We started our project here in Turku by a meeting with our local partners from three different organizations that work with substance-abusing clients. Those organizations were: Sininauha Oy, A-kilta and Tietu ry.
Sininauha Oy is a company that works with clients who have had drinking, drug or mental health problems and who have lost their homes. It provides supported rented accommodation for their clients. The work is based on the housing first principle, which means that housing is the primary need. According to this framework housing is the first step of the social rehabilitation for substance abusers. In the meeting we agreed with the Sininauha Oy that their social instructors will encourage some of their male clients to attend our Much More -peer group. The social instructors pick the clients that would benefit our Much More -group and take them to our first meetings.
A-kilta is a non-governmental grass roots support organization. It offers services and support to recovering substance abusers and to their families. A-kilta promotes a substance free lifestyle by day-time activities and peer groups. We are going to co-operate with A-kilta by visiting their unit and by persuading their male clients to attend our Much More -group. We also agreed that Much More -project will organize some small events like barbeque evenings in the A-kilta house to make their clients familiar with Much More -project.
Like A-kilta, Tietu ry is a non-governmental grass roots support organization that provides services and support to people with addictions problems. It provides low-threshold substance abuse counselling. They will try to persuade their male clients to attend our group. They will also offer some professional guidance to our Much More -project if needed.
Johan Pliakas from Stickan and Per Götberg, from the Swedish Church whom also once attended in the group activities with the target group, had a work shop with the staff of Hemstagården on June 20, 2018. Stickan made a summary of what has thus far emerged in the group treatment with the target group.
What they can summarize this far is that the target group talks about different levels of obstacles to make everyday life and weekends manageable and meaningful. Everyone states that during- and immediately after treatment, you are extremely vulnerable and fragile. One of the participants said that is like your emptiness-feelings and the addiction-feelings are at war with each other. You need to fill your everyday life with meaning. Here are some of the suggestions that the target group has come up with:
Stickan also lifted that that the purpose of today's- and future work shop is to start a thinking process with us professionally about how to develop already current treatment and/or start to think about how to develop new support, treatments, models or activities.
The other half of the workshop Per from the church gave a lecture or perhaps rather held a seminar on how the Attachment theory can be linked to our target group. There were many thought shared about what attachment-patterns we all have, but above all, what attachment-patterns our target group has and how it affects them in social relations. It can also be very helpful in getting tough but also thinking about having to respond to them and how difficult it can be with trust.
The stress management and burnout prevention are becoming more and more important. Especially, when one’s everyday work is directly linked with people who have various addiction problems. Work with this target group in order to maintain their motivation is limitless and consequently might lead to the occupational risk of stress-related illnesses.
This was the reason why more than 20 professionals responded to the invitation to the seminar arranged within the project “MUCH MORE” on June 12th in Riga. Among participants were specialists from 1 to 24 years of professional experience in the field of social work. Although burnout affects individuals at all ages and occupations, it is highly prevalent among health and social professionals due to the intense and continuous nature of contact with individuals receiving care at social rehabilitation centres and night shelters. The result is negative impact on physical and mental health which ultimately relates to work and life quality. During this seminar the professionals learnt to recognize the symptoms in order to identify them in early stages. Theoretical part was well-mixed with practical tasks. Prevention and control of professional burnout are of utmost importance, otherwise stress and burnout could lead to absenteeism from sickness, bad quality of services and need to change one’s job. At the end of the seminar the participants admitted that when you know how to manage your own stress, you can be of real help to others.
On May 25th STICKAN hosted it's second meeting. We talked about how to get the target group motivated, curious and interested to participate. Do we need to add something extra to reach them?
One thing to think about in the future EU group activities is that many people attend in treatment programs, employment services activities or work during daytime. Therefore, it’s more likely that more could participate if it was during the evening.
One suggestion that came up was to make flyers and describe something that is connected to activities that makes everyday life meaningful, joyful and inspiring. This idea is connected to all the group activity events that we have had earlier, though the target group have expressed that what's missing in the currently available addiction treatment is something that builds a meaningful, joyful and inspiring everyday life. The group client also said that this should be something you offer everybody after completion of addiction treatment, or parallel before completion.
Another idea that came up was to note on the flyers/leaflet that this EU project is offering activities and meetings with people that are aiming to explore what it is that builds a meaningful, joyful and inspiring everyday life. Example or suggestions that could make this happen is to for example watch a movie together, go to a music concert or listen to a song and analyse the lyrics.
In April the actions of MUCH MORE for middle-aged men was successfully started in all three project locations: Turku, Gävle and Riga. Throughout the year, Riga will run a program consisting of several workshops: practical healthy nutrition and cooking, art therapy and sports. At the beginning, both the participants and trainers did not hide their concerns about the success of these activities - they were doubtful whether they will be able to cope with their tasks.
Since the beginning of April nine workshops have already taken place and both the participants and trainers feel inspired by these activities which provide a lot of positive emotions and new experience for all. These practical workshops help both the “parties” recognise their strengths and weaknesses and to acquire new skills and knowledge. Art therapy has been chosen to improve persons’ mental and emotional well-being by providing the opportunity to express oneself artistically, improve self-esteem and awareness and to generate deeper understanding of oneself. During the first meeting the task was to write a letter to oneself or draw a picture “How I see myself within next 6 months”. The activities and tasks are different - the participants are encouraged to try various music instruments, improvise and discover themselves through art and music. Physical activities have been included in the programme to maintain or improve good physical health. Nutrition and cooking workshops are enjoyed most of all. The participants have expressed a wish to have them more often and to make more new and simple recipes. Conclusion after the first two months is that interests and skills of the men are different but the majority of the participants admit that they really enjoy the workshops and like that the tasks are understandable and results achievable.